Moving Silhouettes, 12 x 21 inches, oil on linen
As we keep practicing and getting better at this painting thing, we have little breakthroughs from time to time. In the beginning, it's all about technique – I remember when I had an a-ha! moment about color harmony, and another about paint viscosity. These little breakthroughs are what keeps us hooked. We learn new things, and the more we learn, the more obvious it becomes that there's so much we don't yet know. And yet, somehow we know that if we keep trying, we'll get there - where ever "there" is. If we didn't have that conviction what's the point in trying? I'm not happy just making one so-so painting after another. Are you?
But as you know, the climb ain't easy. The more technical knowledge you amass, the harder it becomes. The breakthroughs start happening much less frequently, and the plateaus become higher and farther apart. It's not uncommon to start thinking that we'll never get any better. We've peaked. This is as good as we'll get. The slump lasts longer, the despair darker. Sound familiar?
You know what I think? I think it's because– partially, anyway– as our technique improves, the breakthroughs become less about the technique and more about expression. Finding our voice. Coming to terms with our identity. Now that's pretty heavy stuff. I mean, anyone can paint a tree. How do you make it your tree? Am I talking about style? In a way, yes. but see, here's the problem. Consciously created style is, by definition, contrived. I know that's absolutely true in my case. In searching for my own voice, I've tried –and found– my "style" over and over again, only to realize each time, it was contrived and wasn't really my identity. Just another schtick, if you will.
I've come to recognize my tendency to get excited about some little discovery or another and convincing myself that this is it! this is my style! It's easy to delude yourself when that particular breakthrough happens in a successful painting. You know what I mean? But invariably, after two or three paintings in that "style", I get bored. The novelty is gone. It wasn't my style, after all. Depressing.
If I'm lucky, I will have gained some kernel of knowledge or a piece of the puzzle in my pursuit of my identity - or the recognition thereof. But it's all so fragmented and vague. It's not quantifiable. I can't even articulate it. It kinda sucks.
But the good news is, that I have a test for determining whether a new discovery is at least a part of my true identity or not. If I get bored of it after two paintings, then the answer is no. Accept the defeat, and move on. At least I know what I'm not. The process of elimination continues.
So for the past twenty years or more, I've been searching, discovering, testing, and always getting a negative result. It has never stuck.
That is, until now.